In or out*? That’s so obviously the question. I say ‘so obviously’ but I recognise I’m a little late in asking it, having been first alerted to David Cameron’s address at the European Summit while on a ski bus in the alps, by a nice Parisian man. Up till then, I had little idea what was going on.

Which is probably because I’m not very ‘political’. Which is why I have been astounded by myself these subsequent snowy days, not only in my need to be able to answer that question, but also  my even stronger need to be able to do so intelligently i.e. based on the facts, not the spin.

I want to be ‘all over this one’, as a hipster might say, weighing the true advantages and disadvantages, sifting the wheat from the chaff, understanding the ramifications – not just base my decision on the knee-jerk of instinct, augmented, as it surely would be, by the plethora of tabloid soundbites, much less fertilized by impassioned but not necessarily correct rhetoric from whichever camp, or camp-follower, it comes.

In short, at the risk of sounding like an EU directive myself, this is important, and I want to do it properly.

Which means putting time in, because the issues are extremely complex.  Which is why I spent an unlikely hour pre-dawn the other morning, in downloading and reading the government’s policy paper on the subject, followed by the analyses of political journalists from right across the spectrum, and the comments (some astute, some pugnacious, some frankly ignorant) that those screeds of words obviously attract.

So that’s a big tick for me, then.  I am packing some heavy knowledge! But also a second impasse, as I have very quickly realised that the more I know the more I appreciate how much I don’t know –  of just how big a gulf stretches beyond the edge of my understanding and the lush forests of comprehension on the other shore.

I thought initially that the failing was strictly of my own making. That dithering – thinking this, and then that, and then the other – was a difficult-to-admit, weedy, shameful thing. You don’t know? You SHOULD know! Where’ve you BEEN all these decades?

And then it hit me.  That the opposite might be true. That in understanding how much you don’t know you are at least striving towards wisdom, unlike so many I have – chillingly – heard pontificating on the subject, despite not seeming to know anything much about the facts at all.  Or, rather like the enduring Euromyth about the EU meddling in our bananas, bending the facts to fit the shape they would most like them to be.

And that’s the most scary thing of all. We might despise our politicians, and justly accuse them of all sorts.  Of adopting positions based on spurious motivations. Of fudging the issues. Of evading the questions. Of being – as one person pithily put it – a bunch of self-serving, power-obsessed, dishonest scoundrels, without a scrap of  human decency between them. And some mean stuff about  Jeremy Corbyn’s clothes, as well.

But I’d take most of them, any day (I stand firm on Farage, who chills me) over the people-power that is a public referendum.

That this is a complicated, multi-factorial issue, is there for all to see. It’s provoked a rift in the Cameron/Gove BFF partnership, and put George Osborne in the same camp as Diane Abbott. It’s got Paddy Ashdown and David Owen waving handbags at dawn, and Leanne Wood tucked up in (an NHS?) bed with Jeremy Hunt.

And when something is that serious, one thing at least is clear. That, for all that we don’t know, the one thing we do know is that, whatever spin pitches up on the front pages of newspapers (and the internet babble, and the ten o’clock news) they will all – you can be sure – know the facts about Europe.

As opposed to many of us, who have known little, and cared less.  And who must now base our decision on whichever ‘cause du jour’  that previously – and sporadically – floated our ‘taxpayer’s money’ boat,  or our instinctive post-war fear of being ‘swamped by ‘Johnny Foreigner’, or our simmering resentment of money going to  ‘madcap euro-money pits’,  or of untrammelled waves of immigrants stealing both our jobs and our benefits,  or of ‘bureaucrats’. Which is almost like a swear word.

The same ‘we’ who hold the power now.  Who’ll make that life-changing decision. Which feels like a terrifying responsibility.


First published on The Western Mail Weekend Magazine 27th Feb 2016

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